Dave Roggy is never quite sure how to describe his place of business.
“I don’t even know how to tell ya,” he is apt to respond. “A junkyard meets a bar meets an old corn crib.”
That, and a whole lot more.
On the walls of the open-air operation, you’ll find hood ornaments, gas caps, license plates, tractor seats, hubcaps, exhaust pipes, headlamps, exhaust pipes and just about any vehicular accoutrement imaginable, a chockablock collection that altogether comes off as an explosion of highway pop art.
Meantime, in the gravel-and-grass parking areas, you’ll find motorcycles and minivans, moms with strollers and grandmothers with walkers, vehicles and visitors of all sorts.
“We get babies,” said co-owner Troy Thompson. “We get people of all ages.”
Welcome to Psycho Silo, an all-ages experience that is one part gearhead museum, one part adult playhouse, one part concert venue. Newcomers are entranced by its novelty, but repeat guests always find something to hold their interest.
“There’s always good people, good food, a lot of bikes,” said Leroy Winchel of Hennepin. “They have a lot of car shows."
“A lot of different things happen out here.”
Actually, a lot of nothing happened there for the longest time.
Fifty-five miles north of Peoria, Langley is an unincorporated blip of a burg that never grew to more than a few houses, generations ago. The community claimed one instance of fame – or, rather, infamy – in 1914 when bandits struck a train in nearby Manlius but were cornered by a 200-man posse at Langley. After a shootout that left one lawman dead, the thieves were captured.
At the time, Langley hosted a grain elevator that served a freight line. Though trains still rumble by, the elevator shuttered in the 1950s.
During his childhood in nearby Princeton, Thompson marveled at the old elevator, which he calls a silo. He saw it not as left for dead but as a potential center post for an elaborate tree house, a dream that eventually started to come to fruition in 2012 when Thompson, now 50, owned an art studio in Princeton. He bought the elevator and the surrounding 20 acres, at the time a mass thicket of brush near U.S. Route 6 and Illinois Route 40.
Thompson’s grand vision of an outdoor bar carried just a modest investment. His idea: From the elevator, build a wide bar with room for plenty of tables and chairs, kind of like a backyard deck on steroids. With no roof or full walls, he couldn’t keep the site open all seasons, so May through September it would be. The added benefit was no costs to heat or cool the place.
Thompson then put his artistic flair to use in designing many of the surroundings. Care to take a load off? There’s a bench over there, fashioned from a tailgate. Or jump atop that chair, made from a tractor seat.
“We kind of called it a little clubhouse,” Thompson said. “If it didn’t work out as a bar, we’d at least have a cool place to hang out.”
But it did work out as a bar, from the moment Psycho Silo opened in 2015. The laid-back feel and attitude, along with the garage-wall look and nighttime country and rock shows, lured in curiosity-seekers. Soon, word crackled through watering holes and other spots throughout the area: “Have you heard about Psycho Silo?”
“We called it a biker bar initially,” said Roggy, 53, who owned a body shop in Princeton when he joined Thompson in creating Psycho Silo. “I would say it morphed into kind of an adult Disneyland.”
That’s not to say kids don’t dash about the wide property, especially in early afternoon. As for grown-up patrons, many sport white hair.
“My mom comes out every weekend,” Roggy said. “She’s 80. She comes out with her girlfriends, and they’ll have lunch.”
The food operation is manned by Thompson’s parents, Rick and Sue. Orders move fast, as do the drinks – in part because it’s cash only (though there’s an ATM on site). Most beers and drinks go for a mere $3, another reason patrons come back. Another is to check out décor they might’ve missed the first time or two.
“You can tell when newbies come, because they’re all looking up, and they’re wandering around,” Roggy said. “They’ve got their cameras out. They don’t know what to make of it.”
That description fit Laura Oggero, 50, on a recent Friday. She motored up from East Peoria to take her initial glimpse of the place.
“I’d seen a lot of pictures on Facebook. It looked really cool, so I decided to check it out,” she said, sipping on a Miller Lite as her head turned to and fro amid the surroundings. “I’ll definitely be back.”
Faces old and new invariably make fast friends and add to a rousing din, even when an early-afternoon headcount is just a dozen or so. The camaraderie comes by design, as the bar has no TVs. You can either look around or chat. Most visitors do both.
There’s often something new to see. From the original deck, Thompson and Roggy have extended the layout repeatedly. An auxiliary deck is shaded by a vintage single-engine plane bought from a salvage yard in Rockford. On another deck, beers are served from a bar fashioned from a school bus hauled in from Nebraska.
There’s plenty more in storage, a semi-trailer load waiting for the next expansion and exhibition over the plentiful acreage. Meantime, Thompson and Roggy often function as docents, pointing out doodads and their histories.
“You can never see it (all) in one trip,” Roggy said. “You could walk through three times and see different things.”
Sometimes, Roggy will turn salesman, if the need arises.
“It’s kind of like a swap meet,” he said with a smile before pointing toward a gas can festooning a wall. “A guy needed a gas cap, off that one gas tank. I sold it to him for, like, 25 bucks. He put his bike back on the road that way.”
Stories like that have been shared, further spreading the word of Psycho Silo. Many visitors – including a huge portion of the thousands of bikes that fill the place for concert nights – zoom in from out of state. Business has boomed to the point Thompson and Roggy have quit their day jobs to focus on Psycho Silo.
Thompson credits the site itself as part of the draw. Psycho Silo is close to Interstate 80 and accessible by other routes. But once there, you feel as if in the far-flung oasis.
“It’s easy to get to,” Thompson said, “but we’re in the middle of nowhere.”
Phil Luciano is a senior writer/ columnist for Peoria Magazine
and content contributor to public television station WTVP.